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U.S. Passport Limitations in Europe  

Travel between European countries was streamlined in 1985, in part because of the Shengen Agreement, which removed border controls between the signatory countries. Twenty-six countries have signed the agreement thus far.

Shengen Agreement Countries

If you’re a U.S. citizen entering a European country within the Shengen zone, you’ll need to show your passport upon your first entry—but you won’t need a visa for any tourism or business related visits within the Shengen area. In certain cases, U.S. citizens traveling for study, employment, or internships may need to obtain a visa before leaving the United States.

For U.S. citizens, the Shengen Agreement makes travel between international Shengen countries a bit more convenient because it allows you cross international borders without going through customs and without showing your passport each time.

Non-European Union passport holders must have their passports stamped upon arrival in the Shengen area, however. The State Department recommends that U.S. Citizens voluntarily get stamped when they cross international borders as backup proof that shows the amount of time they were in a particular country.

Non-Shengen Countries

Only six of 28 EU countries are not members of the Shengen Agreement: Croatia Bulgaria, Ireland, Cyprus, Romania and the UK. These countries each have their own visitor requirements, so it’s always good planning to consult the State Department’s website far in advance of any travel plans.

Length of Stay

The Shengen Agreement states that U.S. passport holders can travel in member states for up to 90 days—and despite common misbelief, you cannot simply “step outside” the country’s borders to restart the clock. Once you leave the Shengan zone, you must stay outside for at least 90 days before you can re-enter without a visa.

If you plan to stay in any Shengen country for more than a month, the State Department website can be a great resource for extended-stay regulations.

Passport Limitations

In any Shengen country, your passport must be valid for three months after your planned departure from the area. Non-Shengen countries may have different rules, and the State Department website should be consulted before leaving the U.S. The UK has no password validity requirements.

As always, consult the State Department if you have any questions or concerns about how the Shengen Agreement will affect your travel plans in Europe.

Six Month Validity Passport Rule

If you’re planning on traveling or working in another country, be aware of the six-month validity passport rule. The rule is in effect in many countries outside of the US. The six-month validity passport rule can seriously affect your travel plans. It may even cause you to cancel your trips because the other country will not honor your passport.

What Is the Six Month Validity Passport Rule?

Many countries have adopted a rule that states that they will not accept your passport if it is due to expire less than six months from the time of your trip’s departure. Some countries allow exceptions, and a few countries that require three-month validity, but to be on the safe side it is best to make sure that your passport will not expire within six months. These rules change frequently, so it is best to check the countries’ latest travel requirements before you make travel arrangements and before you leave. For example, Mexico did not enforce the six-month validity passport rule but does so now. Right now, Canada does not enforce the six-month validity passport rule but could do so in the future.

What if I have a Visa?

If you have a visa that extends longer than your passport, you will need to have your passport renewed to cover the time that the visa encompasses. Otherwise, you won’t be able to use that visa. Even so, you will have to travel with the old passport and the renewed passport, and you will have to make certain that is acceptable to the country that issued you the visa. Otherwise, you will have to have them re-issue a visa for the passport that you renewed.

Why a Six Month Validity Passport Rule in the First Place?

While it may seem strange in the era of expedited passports, the six-month validity passport rule most likely came from when it took longer to obtain passports. Also, unforeseen problems could cause a delay in your departure, such as weather problems or illness, and could possibly delay your departure to where you would be traveling on an expired passport. To avoid these problems, these countries instituted the general six-month validity passport rule.

While this rule does seem a little odd, it’s important to realize that this is a rule in the country that you are visiting, and not required by the United States. Always check the country you’re visiting before you do so to make certain that all your paperwork is correct and you will have no unexpected problems.

Passport Book vs Passport Card

While there are similarities between a passport book and passport card, it is crucial that those holding either the passport book or card and individuals needing to obtain a passport for the first time know the differences. The primary differences determine where and how the holder may travel. The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs explains the purpose of each type of passport.

Passport Card

The passport card identifies the holder and is “Valid when entering the United States from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda at land border crossings or sea ports-of-entry,” explains the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs.

It is not possible to use the passport card for other international travel or air travel. Travelers must instead purchase a passport book.

Passport Book

The passport book allows a holder to travel to international destinations. It also permits the designated holder to travel by air to those destinations identified as land-only destinations under rules governing the passport card. For example, a person traveling to Canada by air will need to purchase a passport book. The passport book allows the designated holder to travel internationally by “air, sea, or land.”

In the past, the passport book contained 28 pages and passport holders who travel frequently could purchase additional 24-page Visa inserts. However, the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Passports & International Travel recently announced that as of January 1, 2016, “The U.S. Department of State will no longer add visa pages into U.S. passports.” Instead, all applicants outside the U.S. began receiving the new 52-page passport books as of October 2015 at no additional cost.

Applicants within the U.S. still have the option to select the 28-page or 52-page passport book. If a passport book holder uses all 52 pages, the holder must purchase a new passport book.

The differences between a Passport Book vs Card

Another difference between the passport card and passport book is the size of each document. The passport card is wallet-size while the passport book is 5”x3 1/2” when closed. Additionally, the cost of the passport card is significantly less than the passport book.

Make sure that you know which type of passport you need before purchasing your passport card or book.